Atlanta: John Force Racing finals summary

Force falls in Funny Car final at Southern Nationals. John Force came within one round of celebrating his 53rd birthday in the winners' circle Sunday in the wrapup to the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta ...

Force falls in Funny Car final at Southern Nationals.

John Force came within one round of celebrating his 53rd birthday in the winners' circle Sunday in the wrapup to the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Force, the 11-time NHRA Funny Car Champion, rallied from his poorest qualifying performance in 44 races to reach a final round for the 157th time in his career and extend his lead in an ongoing bid to claim an unprecedented 10th straight championship.

Unfortunately, on this day, his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was no match for Whit Bazemore's Pontiac, which won for the second straight week, 4.963-5.559.

After qualifying only eighth, Force beat Johnny Gray, teammate Gary Densham and Tim Wilkerson to gain the final round at Atlanta for the 12th time in his career and for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.

Densham and Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford, served up the heroics early in the race, Densham by claiming the No. 1 qualifying position with a track record 4.808 from his Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Mustang and Pedregon by setting a track speed record of 325.69 mph, equaling the second fastest speed of all-time.

TEAM CASTROL Details:

JOHN FORCE, Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car

Qualifying position and performance: 8th at 4.918 seconds, 314.53 mph.

Race results: Beat Johnny Gray, Gary Densham, Tim Wilkerson; lost to Whit Bazemore.

Notable: Extended his lead in the race for the 2002 NHRA POWERade championship.

Quotable: "Our ol' heap had problems all weekend, but we still managed to get to the final. That's a credit to Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, Guido (Dean Antonelli) and the whole crew. We thought the heat might help us in the final, but the left lane just wouldn't hold it. The big thing is we helped ourselves in the points but now we have to start worrying about Bazemore." JOHN FORCE

TONY PEDREGON, Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang Funny Car

Qualifying position and performance: 2nd at 4.819 seconds, 322.65 mph.

Race results: Beat Bob Gilbertson; lost to Frank Pedregon.

Notable: Track record speed (325.69 mph) for the second consecutive week.

Quotable: "It dropped a cylinder, but on race day your job is to win the race and I thought I still had a chance against Frankie. It blew up down there and we had a fire but we can fix that. It's just disappinting because I think we had the best race car this weekend. It would have been a good race between us and Gary (Densham)." TONY PEDREGON.

GARY DENSHAM, Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford Funny Car:

Qualifying position and performance: 1st at 4.808 seconds, 320.89 mph.

Race results: Beat Dale Creasy Jr.; lost to John Force.

Notable: Third career No. 1 and Atlanta Dragway track record (4.808); suffered a broken supercharger drive belt in the second round.

Quotable:"It spun the tires and then dropped a couple of holes.  John told me
to be sure I went A to B on the run, but (the engine) was dead down there.  I
never saw John until right at the lights."  GARY DENSHAM.

ROB SLAVINSKI, Castrol AccuVision Pontiac, Competition Eliminator

Qualifying position and performance: 12th at 7.369 seconds, .451 under the B/AA class index.

Race results: Beat Bob Dennis; Lost to Michael Hardee.

Notable: Fouled out by .005 of a second.

ROB SLAVINSKI, Castrol Super Clean dragster, Super Comp Eliminator

Qualifying position and performance: All run.

Race results: Beat Janice Swan, J.D. Reid; lost to Shane Carr.

Next event(s): Matco SuperNationals, May 17-19, Englishtown, N.J.; O'Reilly Summernationals, Topeka, Kan., May 24-26; Chicagoland Dodge Dealers Nationals, Joliet, Ill., May 31-June 2; Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Columbus, Ohio, June 13-16; Sears Craftsman Nationals, Madison, Ill., June 27-30.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Bob Gilbertson , Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Dale Creasy Jr. , Gary Densham , Tim Wilkerson , Johnny Gray , Austin Coil